Authors: Emily March
OU KNOW THAT OLD SAYING ABOUT OUT OF THE
frying pan into the fire?”
It took him a moment to make the connection. That smile turned devilish. “You’re saying I make you hot.”
She lifted her chin. “I’m saying you’re trying to seduce me.”
“I’ve been doing that since the day we met. You haven’t been cooperating. Until tonight.” He stepped close to her and took her in his arms. Lowering his voice to a sensual rumble, he said, “Don’t worry,
. I promise I won’t do anything you don’t want.”
He kissed her, softly, sweetly, and so tenderly that she wanted to sigh. As first kisses went, it was perfect.
“That’s the problem,” she grumbled in a moment of honesty when he lifted his mouth from hers. “I’m more afraid of myself than I am of you.”
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Ballantine Books eBook Edition
Copyright © 2015 by Geralyn Dawson Williams
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
and the H
colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
eBook ISBN: 978-0-345-54233-5
Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi
Cover illustration: Robert Steele
The throbbing beat of U2 blasted from speakers mounted on the metal rafters of the old warehouse as Cicero extended the long metal blowpipe into the crucible and gathered glass. Heat from the furnace burning at two thousand degrees hit like a fist, but he didn’t notice. The image of the sculpture drawn in pencil on the top sheet of his sketch-pad filled his mind.
A long strand of hair, black as midnight, slipped from the leather cord tied at the nape of his neck and fell forward across his face, absorbing the bead of sweat that dribbled across the chiseled ridge of his cheekbone. Cicero ignored the moisture, just as he disregarded the visitors who entered his studio as he dipped the gather of molten glass in rock crystals of color.
Wondering why Gabi Romano had shown up with his friend and her lover, Flynn Brogan, in tow, when she was supposed to be in Italy serving as an apprentice to the master glass artist, Alessandro Bovér, could wait. The image burning in his brain took precedence over everything.
As he closed his lips around the end of the pipe and
blew life into his work with a first puff of air, Gabi pulled her long, dark hair into a ponytail and stepped into the role of gaffer. Wordlessly, he accepted her assistance and blocked out everything but the work, losing himself in the seductive and compelling fog of creativity. For a stretch of time unmarked, the two worked in a silent and practiced ballet of motion, molding the glass, applying heat, shaping and blending and blowing.
Hunter Cicero played with fire for a living and he was very, very good at it.
The graceful figure in his mind gradually took shape in the glass. He vaguely noted when his own apprentice, Mitch Frazier, sauntered through the door and stopped in surprise upon seeing Flynn leaning against the wall, his arms casually folded. Mitch’s gaze swept from Flynn, toward the workbench where Cicero sat, and then to Gabi as she confidently extended the blowpipe into the furnace to reheat the glass. Mitch observed the work for a full two minutes before nodding with approval. He stepped forward and seamlessly joined the creative effort.
The trio spent another forty minutes at work before Cicero decided the piece had taken final form. With a well-placed tap from a pair of metal jacks, he separated his sculpture from the punty, and it fell into Gabi’s gloved hands. He set the punty aside while his gaffer placed the work into the annealing oven to slowly cool to room temperature. Rising from his workbench, he grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and drained it in one long draw.
He switched off the music and spoke to Mitch first. “You were late.”
“Sorry, Boss.” Mitch pulled the rubber band from his long Rastafarian braids, which allowed them to swing freely down past his shoulder blades. “I stayed out late last night and overslept.”
“Use your alarm next time. Better yet, save the late nights for weekends. I don’t want you here when you’re tired. You’ll be careless and have an accident, and your mother will kill me.”
The woman would do it, too. Cicero had barely made it off Bella Vita Isle alive after he’d convinced his apprentice to accompany to him to Galveston to help establish a hand-blown-glass studio that catered to the tourist trade.
Cicero finally turned his gaze on Gabi, who stood twirling a long, dark curl around her finger, the light in her clear blue eyes timid. She offered him a tentative smile, and he scowled at her. The woman was too smart to be nervous; seeing her here did not make him happy.
“Did you get lost on your way back to Italy?”
Gabi visibly braced herself. “No, Cicero. I’m not sure I’m going back.”
Her statement came as no real surprise. Cicero wasn’t stupid. Obviously, she and Flynn had reconciled, and she’d decided to cut her yearlong apprenticeship short—by nine months. Was she about to bail on the Eternity Springs project, too?
Maybe, he thought, his stomach sinking. If she and Flynn were together, why wouldn’t she? The man had more money than Midas. Mindful of his not insubstantial investment in the small Colorado mountain town, and the stack of bills piling up on his desk, Cicero felt his temper rise.
“What’s wrong with you, Legs? Working in Alessandro’s studio is the opportunity of a lifetime, one that countless other artists would kill for. What about all that talk you spouted about your dream and your passion? You’re going to throw it all away?”
“I don’t intend to throw anything away,” she replied, her chin coming up. “I said I wasn’t sure that I was returning to Italy. Cicero, last summer you came to me
with a business proposal. Now I’m coming to you to propose a modification to that plan. Will you sit down and discuss it with me?”
Annoyed at the flash of relief over her assurance, he allowed his frown to deepen and shot a glance toward Flynn. “Are you part of her scheme?”
Flynn lifted his hands, palms out. “I’m an interested bystander, here to support you both.”
Honesty glimmered in his friend’s eyes, so Cicero hooked his thumb toward the small room off the studio where an old, gray metal desk and two ratty chairs sat piled high with paper. To Mitch, he said, “I need you to shift the Valentine’s Day goblets for Beachcomber’s Gifts to the top of your work list.”
“Really?” Surprise glinted in the young man’s brown eyes. “I delivered a dozen of them last week.”
“Yeah, well, yesterday a seven-year-old went on a rampage in the shop.”
“Oh, mon!” Mitch exclaimed, the Caribbean strong in his voice. “Kids are such a …” His words trailed off when he noted the pain in Cicero’s expression. “Wait. Was it—?”
“Keenan.” His seven-year-old menace of a nephew.
Mitch winced. “I’ll get right on ’em, boss. No worries.”
“No worries,” Cicero repeated in a mutter, as he followed Gabi and Flynn into his office. He cleared a stack of manila folders off a chair so Gabi could sit, then opened the small refrigerator and pulled out bottles of water. He tossed one to Flynn, another to Gabi, and took one for himself before clearing off the chair behind the desk and taking a seat. He twisted the lid off his water bottle, drained half of it in one drink, then said, “Bottom line it, Romano. What do you want?”
“First I’d like to explain why I want what I want. You see—”
Cicero interrupted. “It’s the middle of a workday and I have an appointment at two. I don’t have time for explanations. Cut to the chase, Gabriella.”
She wiped her palms on her jeans and despite himself, Cicero was tempted to smile. Ordinarily, Gabriella Romano was one of the most self-assured women he’d ever met. The only other time he’d seen her like this she’d been working up the nerve to ask him to teach her to blow glass.
“Spit it out.”
She nodded, then spoke in a rush. “Instead of returning to Italy to finish out my apprenticeship, I want to divide my time between Texas and Colorado. Here in Galveston I’ll work and learn with you and Mitch like I did on Bella Vita. I’ll use my time in Eternity Springs to concentrate on getting the retail shop ready to open in time for the upcoming tourist season.”
Cicero took another long sip from his water bottle while he considered her idea. His initial reaction was annoyance. He’d called in a favor to get her the spot in Alessandro’s studio. He didn’t like to see her bail. Scowling, he asked, “What does Alessandro say about that? You came home for Christmas, not for the Fourth of July. I trust you let him know your plane didn’t go down on your return flight?”
“Of course. I called him. He’s fine with the idea. He thinks you can teach me everything I’ll need to know because”—she paused, grimaced, and muttered—“this is more humiliating to repeat to you than I had anticipated.”
She inhaled deeply, exhaled in a rush, then said, “Alessandro tells me I’ll never be an artist, so I can learn everything I need to know from you.”
Cicero pursed his lips. “I can’t decide if that’s more an insult to me or to you.”
“Me, definitely,” she replied, a whine in her voice. “He thinks you’re the Second Coming of Chihuly, while I’m competent and enthusiastic, a hard worker, entertaining company and lovely to look at, but I don’t have fire for the fire.”
Sounded like Alessandro realized he wasn’t getting in her pants
. Cicero had told him from the beginning not to expect a conquest.
He sat back in his chair and gave her a thorough once-over. Except for her obvious nervousness, she looked great. Her time in Italy had agreed with her, though he suspected that Flynn had more to do with her sparkle than anything. Had he been wrong in his judgment of her passion for glass?